On this day we celebrate the Birthday of Isaac Asimov, the father of robotics and many scifi classics.
The following Pandemic Reading list of books are our literary picks addressing race, love, dominant governments, and the effects of a plague.
Sure, you’ve read article after article and watched countless you tube videos about COVID and the Spanish Flu of 1917 – we’re all experts by now. But have you actually read anything of sustenance, with brilliant characters, exceptional prose and in-depth analysis of why we live and die, and how communities navigate through such perils?
The following list of books are our literary picks, addressing questions of race, love, death and dominant governments, and the effect on national borders after a plague hits. Authors include Mary Shelley, Albert Camus, Daniel Defoe, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Yuri Hererra, Michael Crichton, and more.
The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years,’ by Sonia Shah
“Sonia Shah’s tour-de-force history of malaria will convince you that the real soundtrack to our collective fate … is the syncopated whine-slap, whine-slap of man and mosquito duking it out over the eons,” Abigail Zuger wrote in The Times.
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe (1722)
From 1665 to 1666, bubonic plague returned to Britain and devastated the city of London — killing roughly one quarter of its population in the span of 18 months. “[I]t was generally in such houses that we heard the most dismal shrieks and outcries of the poor people, terrified and even frighted to death by the sight of the condition of their dearest relations, and by the terror of being imprisoned as they were.”
Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter (1939)
Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider is set around the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 and focuses on a young woman falling in love with a soldier, as both influenza and World War I loom ominously. As novelist Alice McDermott makes clear in her commentary on the novel, it’s a book that hasn’t lost its contemporary resonance.
The Plague by Albert Camus (1947)
As befits a novel with the archetypal title The Plague, there are multiple ways one can interpret Camus’s 1947 work. Writing in the Guardian in 2015, journalist and war correspondent Ed Vulliamy contends it can be read in two ways: first, as a metaphor for the horrors of fascism; and second, as an allusion to a cholera epidemic in Algeria in 1849.
If you are enjoying these book recommendations, we have more great Literary content on The Ritual Blog here.
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (1969)
A group of scientists deal with an epidemic caused by an extraterrestrial microorganism — one that’s constantly evolving and has no precedent in human history.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985)
“Plagues are like imponderable dangers that surprise people,” Gabriel García Márquez told the New York Times in 1988. “They seem to have a quality of destiny.” In the same interview, he spoke of his fondness for Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, and how it was one of the inspirations for this decades-spanning tale of star-crossed lovers, where death is never far from the reader’s mind.
Journal of the Plague Years by Norman Spinrad (1988)
The novel uses a widespread outbreak of a constantly mutating virus to critique conservative responses to HIV and AIDS in the 1980s. “For twenty years, sex and death were inexorably intertwined,” writes an fictional editor at the beginning of Spinrad’s book — what follows are an arrangement of voices, each struggling with literal questions of life and death.
If you are enjoying these book recommendations, we have more great Literary content on The Ritual Blog here.
Beauty Salon by Mario Bellatin (1994)
“Over time I have realized that the disease comes in spurts,” writes the narrator of Bellatin’s short novel Beauty Salon. It’s set in a world devastated by a pandemic affecting If you are enjoying these book recommendations, we have more great Literary content on The Ritual Blog here. men, leading to their rapid deaths in the face of governmental inaction. The novel’s narrator runs a beauty salon, which becomes a hospice for those afflicted.
The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian (2006)
Adrian’s fiction blends his own career in medicine alongside the mythological and fantastical. In his second novel, The Children’s Hospital, a plague called the Botch emerges after a series of events, some apocalyptic, some miraculous. Adrian “wants to know why people die, what meaning can be divined from their lives and their ends, and whether anything lies beyond. ”
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera (2013)
Herrera’s fiction is often set near the border between the United States and Mexico. The Transmigration of Bodies follows a familiar noir scenario — two crime families at war in a single town, during the aftereffects of a deadly plague.
They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
To eight-year old Bunny Morison, his mother is an angelic comforter in whose absence nothing is real or alive. To his older brother, Robert, his mother is someone he must protect, especially since the deadly, influenza epidemic of 1918 is ravaging their small Midwestern town. To James Morison, his wife, Elizabeth, is the center of a life that would disintegrate all too suddenly were she to disappear
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World,’ by Steven Johnson
In August 1854, many poor Londoners “suddenly took sick and began dying. Their symptoms included upset stomach, vomiting, gut cramps, diarrhea and racking thirst. Whatever the cause, it was fast — fast to kill (sometimes within 12 hours of onset) and fast in spreading to new victims,” David Quammen wrote in his review of this fascinating and detailed account of the city’s worst cholera epidemic. “Seventy fatalities occurred in a 24-hour period, most within five square blocks, and hundreds more people were in danger.”
The Last Man by Mary Shelley
Set at the end of the twenty-first century, The Last Man is a moving and fantastical account of the apocalypse. Faced with a populace clamoring for more democratic rule, the last king of England relinquishes his throne. Suddenly a mysterious plague sweeps the globe, drawing ever nearer to England. As war, disease, and death ravage humanity, ideals of fairness and love are quickly supplanted by the imperative of survival.
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Here are 5 awesome Books with Aliens in observance of Sci-Fi Saturday.
1. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
2. Dreamcatcher by Stephen King
3. In the After by Demitria Lunetta
4. The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
5. Who Goes There? by John Campbell
The Lit World would not be the same without having been blessed with the writings and creativity of Mr. Isaac Asimov, thank you for your contribution to the Scifi community. Isaac Asimov was an American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. Asimov was a prolific writer who wrote or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.
Asimov coined the term “robotics”
Karel Čapek, a Czech writer, gave us robot when he used the word in a play in 1921. Derived from a Slavic term for a slave, the word described man-like machines that worked on a factory assembly line. But in 1941, in his own short story called “Liar!,” Asimov became the first person to use the word robotics, referring to the technology that robots possess. The next year, he wrote another short story, called “Runaround,” in which he introduced his three Laws of Robotics. These laws explain that a robot cannot hurt a human, must obey humans, and must protect themselves, so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first two laws.
He Fell in Love with Science Fiction at his First Job
When he was 9 years old, Asimov began working at the family candy stores. His father expected his son to work long hours, and Asimov consistently rose early and went to bed late to help run the shops. Even while employed at other part-time jobs—including one at a fabric company and as a typist for a college professor—he worked in the family business in some capacity, only leaving in his early twenties. In addition to candy, the stores sold magazines, and young Isaac devoured the science fiction stories he read in their pages and fell in love with the genre.
In 1964 Isaac Asimov accurately predicted how technology would look in 2014
Environment and lighting
“Men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colours that will change at the touch of a push button,” wrote Asimov.
“Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The IBM exhibit at the present fair has no robots but it is dedicated to computers, which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. If machines are that smart today, what may not be in the works 50 years hence? It will be such computers, much miniaturised, that will serve as the ‘brains’ of robots.”
“Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs. Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare ‘automeals’, heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on. Breakfasts will be ‘ordered’ the night before to be ready by a specified hour the next morning. Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing.”
The Colonisation of Space
Asimov makes mention of Moon colonies, which he seems to presume would have been in existence by now. Obviously that’s the not the case, but his predictions relating to human exploration of Mars are very close to the mark. “By 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works and in the 2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony,” he writes.
We have indeed sent unmanned spacecraft to the Red Planet, but manned missions and colonization efforts are still, as yet, much talked-about but unrealized.
Consumer Technology and Communication
“The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long-lived batteries,” Asimov mused.
A little side note: Did you know that…
In the ’50s, Asimov wrote a series of six science fiction novels for children using the pseudonym Paul French. The books, collectively called the Lucky Starr series, follow David “Lucky” Starr and his adventures around the solar system. Because the publisher, Doubleday, was hoping to turn the series into a TV show, Asimov used a pen name just in case the television adaptation was terrible—he didn’t want to be attached to something cringeworthy, but he also hated that people began to think he was using the pseudonym in order to protect his reputation in the science community. In the end, the TV show didn’t happen, and some of the books are now credited to both French and Asimov.
HIS TRUE CAUSE OF DEATH WASN’T REVEALED UNTIL 2002.
Although the family considered telling the world Asimov had AIDS, his doctors dissuaded him—the general public was still fearful of HIV and very little was understood about it. His HIV status remained a secret until 2002, a decade after his death, when Janet disclosed it in It’s Been A Good Life, a posthumous collection of letters and other writings that she edited. “I argued with the doctors privately about this secrecy, but they prevailed, even after Isaac died,” Janet further explained in a letter to Locus Magazine (a science fiction and fantasy publication). “The doctors are dead now, and … Isaac’s daughter and I agreed to go public [about] the HIV.”
In 1977, Asimov had a heart attack. Six years later, in December 1983, he had a triple bypass surgery, during which he received a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to doctors, the blood they gave him was infected with HIV. Asimov contracted the virus, and it developed fully into AIDS. He died of heart and kidney failure, caused by AIDS, on April 6, 1992.
Below is our very own Asimov Collection.
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